3 November 2019
Mantashe brought shame to his office and party, pain to our reporters
At the heart of the troubles besieging Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is the comical delusion that he can get away with everything. It’s an arrogance that comes with knowing that President Cyril Ramaphosa is powerless without him.
Mantashe can behave like a teenager – while young cabinet members like Justice Minister Ronald Lamola behave like mature adults. In Biblical terms, we can ask: isn’t the world coming to an end?
What is sad, for me, is that he is elderly. He is a dirty old man that, deep inside, I respect. It makes writing this very difficult. I would avoid it if I could – but here I am.
I first interacted with Mantashe at the funeral of Peter Mokaba at the University of Limpopo at which then president Thabo Mbeki cautioned against the abuse of freedom. “To honour Peter Mokaba we must act to defend the dignity of our revolution against those who contributed nothing to the struggle for freedom… who only know the benefit of liberation.”
Many of those who will be investigating Mantashe’s conduct “only know the benefit of liberation”. But Mantashe opened the door to be questioned by them when he opened the zip.
Addressing students who unleashed anarchy just days prior to Mokaba’s funeral, Mbeki went further: “We must end the idea in the heads of some that our people fought and sacrificed for our freedom so that others should have the right to destroy, to loot…”
Mantashe, who mingled with journalists at the time, said at least Mbeki was not referring to him because he contributed to the country’s freedom. This was June 2002. Fast forward 17 years and Mbeki’s words are of utmost relevance to someone who has now displaced the Young Lions in his debauchery. Isn’t it the height of irony when the young people of the ANC like Khusela Diko and Pule Mabe must use public platforms to cover, excuse the pun, Mantashe’s raging loins because his actions discredit the ANC as a home for dirty old men feasting on women young enough to be their children.
It is in the context above that when I received a story last week quoting Mantashe claiming to have bought two of our journalists, the hair on my back rose. It literally meant I had people to fire and Mantashe had volunteered himself to be fired for complicity in criminal conduct.
I sent him a message to the effect that I would like to confirm if this was his response and if he could give me the names. I was clear to him that such people will be fired from Sunday World should there be such evidence.
We take what we do seriously.
Only three or so weeks ago, I wrote about the repositioning of our paper, the introduction of politics, business and, last week, our new education page. We are doing great things; the feedback has been amazing.
So when so big an authority as a minister entrusted with the nation’s mineral wealth management and the chairperson of the congress movement that Mbeki speaks so glowingly about makes the claim that he paid a bribe, it forces one to take action immediately.
I convened a staff meeting. I made it clear to all reporters that if anybody partook in this, they would be fired, and if anybody promises them bribes in the future, they must report that to me.
The reporters assured me that they partook in nothing of the sort claimed by Mantashe. They took it a step further – volunteering to be subjected to a lie-detector test. On behalf of the company, I indicated that Mantashe had not given us sufficient basis to conduct such an invasive investigation. But all reporters and section editors agreed to this suggestion made by Ngwako Malatji.
The polygraph tests could only be done on Friday – our deadline for many pages. But we believed so serious were these claims that any inconvenience caused to the team and production process was a necessary evil – as long as we moved closer to the truth.
Even as Mantashe backtracked before the South Africa National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) – a terse but confusing statement that created the impression that he did not say what we published last week – we remained steadfast to proceed with internal investigations.
Almost all reporters have undergone the process. We expect this to be finalised in the coming weeks and the process will run parallel to other forensic investigations, which include looking at activity in each reporter’s bank account.
The import of this exercise is to ensure that – regardless of Mantashe’s version (I return to this later) – we thoroughly look into this matter to ensure we don’t have people in our midst who don’t deserve to be in any newsroom.
As the editor, I take my role very seriously. This newspaper is the only 100% black-owned mainstream newspaper in this country. This newspaper has the responsibility to hold our politicians, business people, artists and athletes to the highest standards – in defence, to tweak Mbeki’s quote, of the dignity of our flag. Our reporters understand this. This is why they volunteer to, in their words, “prove our innocence”.
This week, they explained how they have been answering questions from family and friends about Mantashe’s claims. They’re now looked at with suspicion. The pain in their faces is hard to bear. And all of this because an old man who finds joy between the legs of young girls has decided to lie through his teeth!
As their editor, I must apologise to them for taking Mantashe at his word. I agree with Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase that Mantashe owes not just the nation, but Sunday World and its reporters a public apology. He has now only said he “regrets” his lies, as he should, but has fallen short of taking ownership for the damage his lies have caused (see page 6/7). They shouldn’t be put in this position. Mantashe, as someone senior in society from whom we should all be learning, should know better.
In the last eight days, his versions changed – forcing us to go out to defend the innocence of our reporters. This makes it hard for me to know when to believe him. Am I the first editor he has lied to? What does he stand to gain from lying? The next time he says the country is running out of coal, how would we know he is not lying?
His shameful conduct with Lerato Makgatho aside, Mantashe has dishonoured the cause of freedom. He has brought shame to his office. The ANC – Jacob Zuma and Mantashe aside – is a party that has done much for this country. Those who “fought and sacrificed for our freedom” did not, as Mbeki put it, do so “so that others should have the right to destroy, to loot…” Mantashe and his tigress are on a wrecking ball, destroying the honour of a party that brought us freedom.